Mind Flexers 2

Posted on September 26, 2008 by Steve

Twenty-five more association puzzles from Games magazine. Instructions with the first post.

1.Appendix scarA.Armrest
2.At easeB.Backseat driver
3.AutoharpC.Bearing down
6.BlusherF.Cool down
8.EndangerH.Correction fluid
9.FeatheredI.Dirty socks
11.Hearing aidK.Dogcatcher
13.Loaded gunM.Fire prevention
14.Low blowsN.Gavel
15.MinutemanO.Kennel fee
17.Rigor mortisQ.Microbic
18.RustlerR.Oink, oink, oink
19.Scrabble pieceS.Orthopedic department
20.SlipcoverT.Rate like Bo
21.Split decisionU.Redone
22.Spot removerV.Sideline
23.TenureW.Solid state
24.Tiny penX.Stocktaker

Divestment: Week 6

Posted on September 24, 2008 by Steve

9/18: Mailed Growing Up Hockey to Lee.

9/19: A stack of paperbacks from the Penguin 60s series was hidden behind some books on the shelf. (See what Suck had to say about them. Remember Suck?) I grabbed a pair while packing for Toronto, but started reading "Bartleby," got involved in the story, and didn't finish until after midnight.

9/20: Left Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (which included "The Lightning-rod Man") in the lobby of the Sheraton Centre Toronto.

9/21: Four Essays by Michel de Montaigne was missing and presumed lost at the Cincinnati airport, but later appeared in a jacket pocket. From all my frustrating experiences searching for lost objects, I would think that unwanted items would be only too happy to disappear. Instead, they are unpleasantly clingy. Left it in a parking garage after a Five Guys lunch the next day.

9/22: Driving home Monday evening, I noticed a pile of junk on the curb in front of a neighbor's house. There were four chairs, some countertops, and a computer table, with a large sign saying "FREE." I confess that I drove by a second time to see if there was anything worth taking, and fortunately was not tempted. But I got an idea. A few hours later, under cover of darkness, I made a deposit.

  • Akai receiver, with backlit needle gauges for FM signal strength and tuning.
  • Akai amplifier. Surprisingly heavy. Volume pot very scratchy, otherwise sound.
  • Teac dual cassette deck.
A little hard to let the vintage Akai units go, but I am buoyed by hopes that they will get some use in someone else's home. No rain forecast until Thursday.

9/23: Left "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 5" CD in a portable toilet.

9/24: Propane tank that had been sitting in our backyard for ages. None of the neighbors wanted it, but I finally got "Bob K." to pick it up after posting a message on Freecycle.

Trip report: Toronto

Posted on September 22, 2008 by Steve

Priceline hooked us up this time, with a room at a fancy downtown hotel for US$90 per night. The Sheraton Centre had great views from even our ninth floor room; this set of tilt-shift photos from the rooftop gives an idea. We also enjoyed the cavernous lobby with pervasive free wifi, furniture with embedded chess and backgammon boards, and recesses filled with books. I inserted a book of my own, complete with a gratuitous slam of our generally cheery hosts: "Those Canadians are fools." (8-page PDF version.)

Books were in plain sight everywhere, starting with the plane passengers and including many book discounters in the city. I saw a guy sit down with Ulysses while we sipped coffee at Cafe Debut. He wasn't making very good progress though, as he paused frequently to tap something into an electronic gizmo or ogle female pedestrians.

We spent most of our time, as usual, wandering in neighborhoods that looked interesting on the map, and stopping for food and drink whenever appetite and restaurant coincided. We searched the old downtown area for the bank that featured in "The Score," later to realize that it was inconveniently in Montreal. The waterfront area around the CN Tower is quite developed, but pleasantly uncrowded, perhaps because half the condo high-rises are still under construction. The tower itself was not awe-inspiring, despite it's outdated claims to being the world's tallest. Perhaps because it is set apart from the city skyscrapers, or perhaps because it is mostly an undecorated concrete stalk, it did not overwhelm up close, and looks best in the distant background of our photos.

Growing up in the U.S. trained me to despise Canadian currency, since their coins are undervalued slugs that you try to pass on soon after carelessly accepting one. Their banknotes, however, are handsome and colorful. And they have scrapped $1 and $2 bills in favor of coins, so you can actually spend your pocket change usefully. Prices were generally what we're used to, and I was chagrined to learn, toward the end of our visit, that the exchange rate is no longer much in our favor. I gave my last toonie to the driver who took us to the airport, at a savings of $25 to our incoming taxi ride, on a comfy new bus complete with seatback outlets, free wifi, and a running commentary of local lore.

Divestment: Week 5

Posted on September 17, 2008 by Steve

9/11: Returned a fluorescent shop light to Home Depot for $9.21.

9/12: Wrapped up Irrational Man in plastic and set out to stash it in the center of a circular cloverleaf at the intersection of 495 and 123. There appeared to be an open area there which would be undisturbed for some time.

There was a light rain and going was slow due to thick undergrowth, but I eventually made it to the edge of the asphalt-ringed island. Climbing up from the edge, it seemed tranquil in the woods despite the constant growl of traffic. The noise provided some cover, and I flushed a group of deer (a "mob," to those who enjoy faunal collective nouns) by walking right into their nap area. I saw some getting up twenty feet to my left and heard others to my right. Trying to follow them led me to the edge of a clearing where I made an unexpected discovery which forced me to scrub the mission.

Standing in the drop zone, unmistakable in safety orange vests, was a survey crew. One of them was looking my way, so I gave an awkward wave and continued rooting around through the brush, as if I had lost a contact in this No Man's Land. It wouldn't do to dump my package just anywhere, or to deposit it in plain sight of witnesses, so I headed back. On the way I picked up an orange golf ball, a disheartening reversal to the divestment project.

9/13: Threw away the pieces of a battery-powered crib mobile which the kid used as monkey bars.

9/14: Two waffle cones, tough as cardboard, in the back of the pantry, delicately packaged in a box with a styrofoam liner. Ate them.

9/15: Two large cartons for some stroller accessories with associated packaging materials; trashed.

9/16: Another failed divestment day. A desktop computer at home is suffering from the dread boot hang after mup.sys syndrome. I spent more time Googling than testing and convinced myself that the power supply was going. So I picked up a $20 no-name 500W power supply at MicroCenter and swapped it out. No change, and no old power supply to junk.

9/17: Left Reality, Man, and Existence next to a bible at the dentist's office.

Reading Lolita on the run

Posted on September 16, 2008 by Steve

After efforts to synchronize a read-by-e-mail group session around Notes From Underground came to naught, I nudged some friends toward Nabokov's infamous book. I was myself encouraged by Tony, who assured me that the book was not on the All Time Greatest lists for nothing.

Indeed, the book was not at all what I expected. I was among the readers who assumed that this was a "lewd book." The subject, of course, is discomfiting, to say the least. But one soon falls under the trance of the narrator's hypnotizing prose and forgets to despise him. And Humbert Humbert wallows so in his abject wretchedness that it's hard not to feel sorry for him.

It didn't hurt that my book was an audio performance by Jeremy Irons, proven by mathematical formula to have the perfect voice. (Here's a sample of the delicious mellifluousness.) This meant that I had to "read" the book while driving, but these uninterrupted half-hour blocks of literature made even commuting enjoyable.

As for the story, well, it's a bit of a sideshow. Almost slapstick at times (inconvenient character, meet speeding truck), it's not really enough to go on -- a licentious road trip, a shadowy rival. If fancy verbiage is not your thing, I doubt you'll make it through. I felt my interest begin to flag at least once, during an overlong appreciation of Lo's tennis technique, complete with a distracted aside caused by a passing butterfly.

But there's more than enough fancy verbiage to keep a fan of language entertained. I frequently had to back up the CD, sometimes to catch something I missed, more often to absorb in amazement a bit of prose. There are plenty of foreign inclusions, mostly in French, and one multilingual mouthful that defied recognition:
Seva ascendes, pulsata, brulans, kizelans, dementissima. Elevator clatterans, pausa, clatterans, populus in corridoro. Hanc nisi mors mihi adimet nemo! Juncea puellula, jo pensavo fondissime, nobserva nihil quidquam.

This was translated in Alfred Appel's Annotated Lolita:
The sap ascendeth, pulsates, burning, itching, most insane, elevator clattering, pausing, clattering, people in the corridor. No one but death would take this one [Lolita] away from me! Slender little girl, I thought most fondly, observing nothing at all.

It wasn't until I finished Lolita and moved on to one of Graham Greene's standards that I realized what a step down I'd taken. Compared to the artless bumblings of a vacuum cleaner salesman, HH's adventures seemed positively enthralling. Indeed, I was deeply chagrined halfway through Lolita when I scanned the Wikipedia article on the book and thought I spoiled a plot point. It turned out I was one of the inattentive readers Martin Amis mentions who missed a major plot device that is hidden in plain sight.


Posted on September 11, 2008 by Steve

   The guy seemed to know what he was doing, and I was sitting there, hanging on his words, when he said, "And you also have to know about colors -- how to get different colors when you mix the paint. For example, what colors would you mix to get yellow?"
   I didn't know how to get yellow by mixing paints. If it's light, you mix green and red, but I knew he was talking about paints. So I said, "I don't know how you get yellow without using yellow."
   "Well," he said, "if you mix red and white, you'll get yellow."
   "Are you sure you don't mean pink?"
   "No," he said, "you'll get yellow" -- and I believed that he got yellow, because he was a professional painter, and I always admired guys like that. But I still wondered how he did it.
   I got an idea. "It must be some kind of chemical change. Were you using some special kind of pigments that make a chemical change?"
   "No," he said, "any old pigments will work. You go down to the five-and-ten and get some paint -- just a regular can of red paint and a regular can of white paint -- and I'll mix 'em, and I'll show how you get yellow."
   At this juncture I was thinking, "Something is crazy. I know enough about paints to know that you won't get yellow, but he must know that you do get yellow, and therefore something interesting happens. I've got to see what it is!"
   ... So I went to the five-and-ten and got the paint, and brought it back to the restaurant. The painter came down from upstairs, and the restaurant owner was there too. I put the cans of paint on an old chair, and the painter began to mix the paint. He put a little more red, he put a little more white -- it still looked pink to me -- and he mixed some more. Then he mumbled something like, "I used to have a little tube of yellow here, to sharpen it up a bit -- then this'll be yellow."

--Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Divestment: Week 4

Posted on September 10, 2008 by Steve

9/4: Conscientiously dropped an old iBook battery into the recycle box at Circuit City. While browsing Red Dot specials, was spotted by a friend working in the store. He showed me a deal on a TV wall mount, which will likely become the first item acquired on this project, but it will later allow me to divest a desk that is crowding our bedroom.

9/5: While hauling the kitchen garbage out, I spotted a jug of whey protein powder on top of the refrigerator, left by a visiting family member. It was less than half full and probably stale, so I added it to the load.

9/6: Rainy day housecleaning yielded a banner day for divestment. Two half-burned coffee-can size triple-wick candles. Dozens of shirt boxes and gift bags. A bath brush. Two fake plastic flowers in plastic vases with fake plastic water. Used wrapping paper. And more I forgot.

9/7: A half-full bag of Splenda for baking. We tried to make chocolate chip cookies with it once, and they were awful. Trashed.

9/8: Gym bag emblazoned with former employer's logo. I carried it to the mall to try and foist it upon Lost & Found, but lost my will and left it in a dumpster.

9/9: Two paperback Golden Nature Guides: Birds and Flowers. Published in 1949 and 1950, they were nice in their day but we've probably extinguished half the species by now. Tucked into a nook in a parking garage stairwell.

9/10: "Conloquium Currus" coffee mug (motto: "non impediti ratione cogitationis"). Left in a phone booth.

Divestment: Week 3

Posted on September 03, 2008 by Steve

8/28: "A Day in the Life of a Flight Leader" training DVD. Trashed.

8/29: Stuffed a stuffed animal into a donation bin in Tysons Corner.

8/30: Left Penn Jillette's Sock on the passenger seat of a Lexus SC430 convertible parked on M Street in Georgetown.

8/31: More basement debris trashed: one misfit window screen, a strip of drywall, and a rectangle of concrete backerboard. Except for the screen, these scraps are all backed up by other scraps of like material, which may have to be divested on a later date.

9/1: History of Istanbul touristic CD ROM. Abandoned in Murky Coffee.

9/2: Trashed forty (forty!) cassette tapes tended and stored for years. A few store-bought, mostly dubs and mixes. I had no way to play them anyway, except on the antique stereo equipment that is slated for disposal.

9/3: Left a short-sleeved H&M dress shirt in the donation bin.

Eighteen-inch plinth of mud-parge

Posted on September 01, 2008 by Steve

Tony got a whiff of life in the Good Old Days before the horseless carriage, reminding me of this classic description of London in the late nineteenth century.
The Strand of those days...was the throbbing heart of the people's essential London...But the mud! [a euphemism] And the noise! And the smell! All these blemishes were [the] mark of [the] horse....

The whole of London's crowded wheeled traffic - which in parts of the City was at times dense beyond movement - was dependent on the horse lorry: wagon, bus, hansom and `growler', and coaches and carriages and private vehicles of all kinds, were appendages to horses...the characteristic aroma - for the nose recognized London with gay excitement - was of stables, which were commonly of three or four storeys with inclined ways zigzagging up the faces of them; [their] middens kept the cast-iron filigree chandeliers that glorified the reception rooms of upper- and lower- middle-class homes throughout London encrusted with dead flies, and, in late summer, veiled with living clouds of them.

A more assertive mark of the horse was the mud that, despite the activities of a numberous corps of red- jacketed boys who dodged among wheels and hooves with pan and brush in service to iron bins at the pavement-edge, either flooded the streets with churnings of `pea soup' that at times collected in pools over-brimming the kerbs, and at others covered the road-surface as with axle grease or bran-laden dust to the distraction of the wayfarer. In the first case, the swift-moving hansom or gig would fling sheets of such soup - where not intercepted by trousers or skirts - completely across the pavement, so that the frontages of the Strand throughout its length had an eighteen-inch plinth of mud-parge thus imposed upon it. The pea-soup condition was met by wheeled `mud-carts' each attended by two ladlers clothed as for Icelandic seas in thigh boots, oilskins collared to the chin, and sou'westers sealing in the back of the neck. Splash Ho! The foot passenger now gets the mud in his eye! The axle-grease condition was met by horse-mechanized brushes and travellers in the small hours found fire-hoses washing away residues....

This description appeared in Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource, but I haven't been able to determine the original source.